Earlier this week a story surfaced about the threat of a future mass extinction in the oceans. A Google news search reveals that this story appeared at phys.org, scienceblog.com, sciencealert.com.au (Australia) and sciencedaily.com, and nowhere else, at least not here in the United States.
We see, then, that this story was confined to the science ghetto. It was not reported by the Associated Press, Reuters, CNN, ABC, MSNBC, or any of the rest. The story was based on a research paper called Extinctions In Ancient And Modern Seas (pdf) which recently appeared in the journal Trends In Ecology And Evolution.
I'll quote from the Science Daily story called World's Sea Life Is 'Facing Major Shock', Marine Scientists Warn.
Life in the world's oceans faces far greater change and risk of large-scale extinctions than at any previous time in human history, a team of the world's leading marine scientists has warned.
That's a stunning lead. You might think the world would pay attention to a story that starts off like that.
The researchers from Australia, the US, Canada, Germany, Panama, Norway and the UK have compared events which drove massive extinctions of sea life in the past with what is observed to be taking place in the seas and oceans globally today.
Three of the five largest extinctions of the past 500 million years were associated with global warming and acidification of the oceans — trends which also apply today, the scientists say in a new article in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution.
Other extinctions were driven by loss of oxygen from seawaters [anoxia], pollution, habitat loss and pressure from human hunting and fishing — or a combination of these factors.
"Currently, the Earth is again in a period of increased extinctions and extinction risks, this time mainly caused by human factors," the scientists stated. While the data is harder to collect at sea than on land, the evidence points strongly to similar pressures now being felt by sea life as for land animals and plants...
Marine extinction events vary greatly. In the 'Great Death' of the Permian 250 million years ago, for example, an estimated 95 per cent of marine species died out due to a combination of warming, acidification, loss of oxygen and habitat. Scientists have traced the tragedy in the chemistry of ocean sediments laid down at the time, and abrupt loss of many sea animals from the fossil record.
"We are seeing the signature of all those [Permian] drivers today — plus the added drivers of human overexploitation and pollution from chemicals, plastics and nutrients," Prof. Pandolfi says.
"The fossil record tells us that sea life is very resilient — that it recovers after one of these huge setbacks. But also that it can take millions of years to do so."
The researchers wrote the paper out of their concern that the oceans appear to be on the brink of another major extinction event.
"There may be still time to act," Prof. Pandolfi says. "If we understand what drives ocean extinction, we can also understand what we need to do to prevent or minimize it.
I don't want to dwell on the details of the paper. You can read it if you want to (it's linked-in above). I did take the time to grab Table 1, which you can peruse at your leisure. It is quite informative.
I used to worry about this stuff. Years ago, I would have gotten all bent of shape about the fact that only a few people seem to care about the very real, looming possibility of a mass extinction in the oceans. In fact, I believe the probability of such an event occurring in the next 200 years is near unity (= 1).
I don't worry about this stuff anymore. But I do want our collective descendants to know there were a few people in 2012 who thought such probable catastrophes were worth noting and reporting on.
In the United States, the media are too preoccupied with Hopey-Changey versus The Mittster to notice that there is a coming mass extinction in the oceans. I want our descendants to know that, too. Few people will remember in 2050 who ran for president in 2012, but those hapless folks will remark frequently on the fact that millions of humans are dying off because the oceans are turning to shit.
Posting will be light over the next few days. Have a nice weekend.